There is an old saying in business that ‘the customer is always right’.
Customers can be irritating, argumentative, demanding, and lots of other things. But they are always right, because without customers, businesses don’t exist. The whole purpose of a business is to sell a product or service to satisfy customers’ needs. To the customer, your business is what their experience of it tells them it is.
A key buzzword in modern business is ‘customer experience’, often shortened to CX. Today’s customers are more demanding than ever before, largely because they have more opportunities to interact with sellers – and with other customers.
Social media and other aspects of the online world have transformed the way most businesses deal with their customers. Some industry analysts speak of the ‘experience economy’, where the most important part of a transaction is not the product being bought or sold, but the experience the customer has in performing the transaction.
The online world has made it much easier for customers to talk about suppliers, the suppliers’ products and their experience dealing with that supplier. You ignore CX at your peril – customers are now empowered in a way not possible even a few years ago.
That’s why CX has become big business. New companies have sprung into existence to help organisations manage and enhance the experience their customers have in dealing with them. CX is relevant to all businesses that deal with customers – just about everyone.
But you don’t need expensive CX tools to provide a good customer experience. Like so much in business, CX is essentially about getting the basics right. That means the right people, the right tools and the right IT infrastructure.
How do you ensure your organisation provides a good CX? The first thing to understand is that the customer experience has become the key differentiator between many businesses – not price, not quality, not availability.
Consultancy KPMG talks about the six pillars of CX, which are applicable across all industry sectors and all sizes of business:
- Personalisation: Show that you understand each customer. Use contact tools that enable you to see their past interactions and their preferences, and to act on this information.
- Integrity: Build trust through consistent behaviour, by your staff and by your organisation as a whole.
- Expectation: Don’t just manage customers’ expectations – exceed them. Walk the extra mile.
- Empathy: Understand the customer’s circumstances. Let them know that you know what it’s like to be in their shoes.
- Time and effort: Create frictionless processes and remove unnecessary obstacles to doing business. We used to call this ‘business process re-engineering’.
- Resolution: Turn a poor experience into a great one by resolving problems quickly. Turn adversity to you advantage.
These are all important. None of them work in isolation. And they all rely on a solid computing infrastructure – one that enables an organisation to support its customers at every touchpoint in the relationship, from initial enquiry to the continued maintenance of a strong and mutually beneficial relationship.
Customers today expect to be able to deal with organisations in real-time and through all channels (an approach called ‘omnichannel'). That means newer channels such as mobile and live chat, as well as conventional channels like email and telephone. Your systems need to support all the methods of communication your customers are likely to use.
Good CX means good self-service. Customers need to be able to find information and resolve problems for themselves wherever possible. That means an interactive website with a well-stocked content hub and good service-management tools.
CX also means the right level of social media monitoring, support and interaction. There are now tools for even the smallest organisation to use social media to its advantage.
All of these tools and techniques require a high-level server capability and an integrated IT infrastructure. They also require the right mix of skills to maintain, test and improve the CX at all stages of the relationship.
You need to give your team the right tools to support customers across every step of the sales journey, to manage customer information and customer support, and to anticipate and resolve problems quickly and efficiently.
It all comes back to having the right technology in place.